Monday, January 30, 2006

Constitutional Reform Commission: Speech of 30 January 2006

On behalf of my fellow Commissioners I would like to start by thanking His Excellency for organizing this morning’s press conference.

Then, we must thank particularly you the members of the press for taking the time out to attend this conference.

We also thank Cabinet, Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition, and those NGO and Civil Society organizations, who participated in the exercise, for our appointment.

Topics: You have previously read and heard our Terms of Reference. I will not repeat them. I venture to suggest that among the topics we will be covering in our review are:

  • Increasing the maximum number of Ministers;

  • Scaling down the reserve powers of the Governor;

  • Entrenching the localization of the Deputy Governor;

  • Considering the question whether the Attorney General should continue to be chief legal adviser to Government as well as being the Public Prosecutor;

  • Localising the position of Attorney General;

  • Providing for the Attorney General to be either an elected member of the House or a non-elected person appointed on the nomination of the Chief Minister;

  • Considering whether we need to change the requirement for a vote of no-confidence to succeed;
    Whether there should be a general election following a successful no-confidence motion;

  • Increasing the number of elected members of the House;

  • Changing the way we elect members of the House;

  • Whether there should be nominated members of the House;

  • The need for a clear definition of a Belonger;

  • Protecting the rights and interests of the indigenous people of Anguilla;

  • Updating the human rights part of the Constitution;

  • Considering provision for an Ombudsman, a police complaints authority, making the Public Accounts Committee more effective, and improving anti-corruption provisions;

  • Entrenching codes of conduct for Ministers and other members of Executive Council, the House of Assembly, and politicians in election campaigns, and other anti-corruption provisions;

  • Considering the question of ex-officio members of the House and of ExCo;

  • There will be other constitutional issues that will emerge during the next six months that we shall also consider.

We shall not hesitate to consider and make recommendations on the difficult topics. These include, for example:
  1. Should the Governor continue to chair meetings of the Executive Council?
  2. Should the civil service and the police remain under the control of the Governor, or should either a minister or an independent body take charge?
We may come up with recommendations that are unacceptable to the British Government. We may make recommendations that are opposed by our own government. That is not our concern. We will do our job to the best of our abilities. We leave it to others to do theirs.

We have no idea whether we have a budget. We understand that some facilities will be made available to us. We do not know what if any funding is accessible by us. What we can do will depend on the extent of the resources that government will put at our disposal. We will hold public meetings. We invite you all to attend. Depending on funding, we will bring in experts to address the public on how these issues are handled in other Overseas Territories, and what options are open to us. We will publicly present our draft initial recommendations before delivering our final report to the Governor and the government.

Discussion Forum: One measure that we will use to communicate is an internet discussion forum:
– Open to anyone to join – Google Group – Open Google, home page – select ‘Groups’ – Enter “Anguilla Constitutional Reform” – Click on “Search Groups” – The first result will be a link to our discussion forum. It is called “Anguilla Constitutional Reform”.

I invite you to join it. Any member of the public can join it. The advantage of this mechanism is that it is completely free, it costs not a penny to run, and it permits Anguillians and other persons all over the world to join in our discussion. Everyone who joins the forum will see what everyone else has written or submitted, and can respond to anything that they wish to comment on. You can change your settings so that, for example, you receive an email whenever anything is posted, or you can set it so that you only see pages when you access the forum.

As with the moderators and administrators of all discussion forums, we will retain the power to block anyone who abuses the facility. This includes persons posting obscenities and abusive language.

Communications: Our Commissioners will use email and the internet to conduct many of our meetings and communications. This will minimize costs, and the interruption of our daily routine, while permitting us to interact fully with each other and to exchange ideas and documents practically in an instant. These modern electronic facilities will not replace face-to-face meetings, but will supplement them. Software will never be a completely satisfactory replacement for wetware.

Time: Some persons have raised questions about the length of time given to us, 6 months. TCI had 4 months. They had to start from scratch. And, their territory consists of several islands. Their commission was able to complete the work in time. We have the advantage of being one small compact island. Additionally, we have at our disposal the results of the consultations done by the previous Constitutional and Electoral Reform Committee during the years 2001 and 2002, and 2003. That committee did a tremendous amount of work and has provided its papers for our assistance. If we have the money, we would want to visit the Diaspora in the Virgin Islands and other Anguillian homes away from home. Of course, many of these persons will be able to participate on the internet through the internet forum discussion we will be having. I invite my fellow Commissioners to join me in not leaving it to the last minute to present our Report. If we set a target date for completion of our task in, say, 4 months, we are more certain to complete it in time than if we give ourselves the full 6 months.

Expertise: Others have questioned the absence of a specialist constitutional lawyer among our number. We do not have any concern on that footing. Our task is to make recommendations based on wide consultations with the public, not to draft what we think is the best constitution. Other experts will do that after the British government has agreed the final version with our government.

Conclusion: Whatever we recommend or draft will not be the last word. The real decisions will be made in the “smoke-filled back rooms” in London, where our elected representatives will meet with FCO representatives, to negotiate the final result. My view is that, at the end of this review, Anguilla’s politicians going to London must invite local and regional experts, who can assist them in the negotiations with the UK government, to join them as part of the team. Once those negotiations are complete, it will be very difficult to come back home, and present the negotiated deal to the public, and, if there is a negative response, to try to get last-minute changes. Those changes will not happen. The crucial phase is the London negotiations, not the discussions we are going to hold, or the recommendations we may make.

With that caution in mind, we call upon our fellow Anguillians to help us in this exercise. I have every reason to believe that your Commissioners will work together, to make the very best recommendations. We all trust and expect that our government representatives will go off to London well supported and assisted. At the end of the day, the exercise will succeed only if we all join in the effort. We shall see.